I'm a bit shy and quiet by nature ("until you know me." Really, some of my friends can't get me to shut up - or not throw a really bad pun out!) But I was already fearful of not being good enough for God. So early on, my interactions with the opposite sex were... not spectacular.
Now, every boy, to some extent, deals with rejection. It's part of growing up. Some can brush it off and say "hey, it was worth a shot, getting slapped by her is still attention!" For me? No. I already had this sense of not being good enough, not being worthy - so early on, I came to any potential happiness or relationship already rejected and expecting it. To the point where I Wouldn't even try.
Besides, if God wanted it, he'd have some obvious way of saying "Hey. Her. Go talk to her now, and she will be yours," right? Yes, that (and the mentality I had to be The Provider, The Decider, Stoic and Handling All - which is a LOT to put on a teen!) really didn't help.
I still remember the first girl I was... infatuated with. Carrie. Cute, smart, funny, curly red hair and freckles. Yeah, charlie Brown's "curly headed red-haired girl?" I had her in my class. Fifth grade. You know how big moments stick in your mind? Here's mine:
Her, me, friend of hers, friend of mine. I *obviously* liked her. I'm fairly sure she was VERY aware of it. We're the only ones in the classoom - we're in instead of at recess for some reason.
My friend: "Well, do you like her?" She can her.
Me? "Yes." Immediate reaction - "You're not good enough. And she doesn't go to your church. This is wrong." And I, in my first big bonehead move with the opposite sex, with someone who probably likes me, add "As a friend."
Which I get right back. And kick myself for saying for years afterward.
Now, yes, part of that WAS we were fifth (maybe sixth) graders and these hormone things making us like the girls we thought were "icky" before were weird. I admit that. But my deeply ingrained Christian guilt also took my big declaration, which was frightening to say - "Yes, I like you!" - and threw it in my face and forced me to basically say "not that way. Be alone."
I was very aware of that guilt and of not wanting God's disapproval. After all, would she (weak girl she was... ugh, yes, I had that attitude! Even though I knew she was smart, fun, and clever - kind of the opposite of weak - cognitive dissonance is the religious person's friend!) eventually be my Delilah? Would she want to seduce and tempt me, maybe even want to 'do it' outside of marriage... never mind I didn't know what 'it' was, or how it would be done? No, best to not risk making God angry. I'll do it to myself before he has reason to, like a good Christian.
All of this fed on itself - not wanting more rejection, the sense of disapproval from God (yes, disapproval from a nonexistant being,) guilt - on top of just teenage reactions. I didn't know how to act. And on top of it, MORE disapproval kept me from doing what my peers did. I don't mean teenage sex - sure, therew as some of that going on - or drugs (we had our stoners like everyone else.) I mean just going out with friends. Going to a roller rink? Which, yes, was a big thing. Well, they played that satanic rock music there. And the roller thing was somehow sexual anyway - bad! Bad! Repress! Repress! Concerts? I didn't listen to rock music! And what teenager in the 80s wanted to go see Roy Clark with my parents? Or the Nutcracker? (Yes, I saw them both.) Parties? Well, I was already ostracizing myself from my peers, so who would invite me, and why would I go to these non-church parties where, I was told, there was sex, and drinking, and probably darker things like drug use going on?
Thing is, I didn't go to church parties either. Why? Mr. Pot (not the leafy kind) looked at Mr. Kettle (the pastor's son and the other kids in church) and thought they were boring and uptight. I don't think they had parties, actually. So I didn't bother getting to know them better and do stuff with them. (Besides, why would I want to spend more time around his father, Mr. Fire-and-brimstone, You're guilty sinner I should burn you now than I had to by listening to him Sunday?)
Of course, I was also cut out of other activities my age group enjoyed. Like, oh, Halloween. I used to trick or treat when I was little... but I still remember the yearly speech about how it was actually "the pagan holiday Sam-Haine" where "the Celtic god of death was worshipped," and witches, pagans and satanists captured and sacrificed children to Satan. Even getting candy gave Satan power! Oh, and (to give you more of an example of the utter crap I was shoveled, and believed wholeheartedly - because, after all, the pastor was God's chosen teacher for us, and he wouldn't be wrong or lie, would you mr. Brown?) why didn't this make the news? The media, the police and doctors were infiltrated! Yes, they had witches and satanists IN THEIR RANKS, rotting them from the inside and covering up these hundreds or thousands of missing kids! Abortions? Those done around Halloween were really sacrifices! There were more done around then! Don't let your kids dress up and go trick or treating!
Yeah. Bother looking this up? Nope. (Not that we had the internet then, but there were still public records that could be checked - that, if you'll notice, he put doubt on, because Public Authority Was Compromised.)
I'll touch on one other vivid memory of the attitudes pushed by that church. I don't remember the rest of that sermon, but I remember the pastor preaching about gays. He went to explaining what a fagot was (note, one G) - kindling, essentially, used to help start a fire. And declared in full on Preacher-speak that "We called them (the gays) faggots because we felt they were fit to be burned!"
Don't ask me how I came out of that being a believer in equal rights for everyone, gay, straight, any race, creed or color... maybe it was my love of history showing me what the lack of it did.
In any case, over time I started shedding some of this. I realized how shameful my attitude about Lennon was. I even got a (somewhat real) stereo - TWO tape decks AND a record player! - and played the heck out of Boston's Third Stage album. (As an aside... with today's CDs, I think people really miss out on grandiose, epic artwork.) I started listening to other music... and less and less Christian radio. I was introduced to Rush, Yes, the Moody Blues - and eventually introduced myself to Queensryche, all showing me rock wasn't what I was told, that it could be epic, grand and thoughtful. And getting me to play bass guitar...
But still the Christian guilt chewed at me inside.
I questioned. I researched. And... well, if you look at the flight tests of the F-22 Raptor, at one point you'll see one try to land and the computer go wonky, putting it into an oscillation... eventually destroying the airplane.
I started into a Christian Guilt oscillation as I tried to reconcile the doubts and logic I had with my Christian upbringing and guilt.
I would buy things - for instance, my interest in mythology and folklore (which, ironically, "didn't apply" to the bible... /sigh) dragged me over to White Wolf's Vampire and Werewolf RPGs. I spent money on these - not an insignificant amount. Never got around to playing them... because, in what I imagine to be similar to a manic/depressive's cycle in some ways (I don't know, honestly) I'd go from enjoying myself and really getting into the world, into guilting myself and - not selling, not giving away, but THROWING away hundreds of dollars of books. Just to re-buy them later when I realized how silly that was... then threw those away two years later.
Now, I don't blame Christianity for all my faults - late teens, early 20s, you do stupid stuff. And I can, I suppose, even say it kept me out of trouble - I never got to where I liked beer, never started driving drunk, and know I don't have kids somewhere I don't know about because I didn't screw around. However, when you're raised in the Cold War under a (real) tension between two superpowers that could, quite literally, clean life from the face of the planet (and the president calls the foe evil, and supports Israel) ... well, obviously the End Times were here! (Aren't they always?) Which didn't help the guilt.
But I can blame it for wasting money. And for keeping myself down, because I wasn't worthy. For the hate I was finally learning to shed. For keeping me from asking questions and going out and *getting* things instead of wasting time trying to figure out if it was "god's will" or not. For wasting time trying to figure out why I wasn't good enough for God to start rewarding me, despite tithing and doing what I should, despite fervent prayers, instead of kicking myself in the ass and saying "You want it, you need to do this, learn this, and GO for it."
Christian guilt is driving down the freeway with the parking brake locked. it really slows you down. The only difference is, if your brake is locked, the burning you're smelling is real, as opposed to the hell you're trying to guilt yourself and others away from.
So how did I start to escape? Yes, spiritually journeying and trying to compromise... a path many ex-Christian Atheists will probably empathize with.
And we'll get to that next time.